LAS CRUCES, New Mexico - Starting January 19, 2018, most out-of-state nurses will no longer be able to practice in New Mexico if they do not have a New Mexico license.
State legislators failed to pass legislation to join the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC), which allows nurses within participating states to practice interchangeably with a single license. 26 states passed the legislation. As a result of New Mexico's inaction, nurses with New Mexico licenses will be limited to working in Colorado, Rhode Island and Wisconsin and vice versa. Colorado, Rhode Island and Wisconsin also have not yet passed eNLC legislation, therefore the original Nurse Licensure Compact will remain in effect and the states will remain members, according to the New Mexico Board of Nursing.
Nurses ABC-7 spoke with fear this will significantly increase the patient-to-nurse ratio. In rural areas of New Mexico, health care professionals say they wouldn't be able to function.
"There are several departments that I can say they wouldn't be able to function with out travelers," Erin Dodson, the nursing supervisor for the Roswell Independent School District said. "And these are not travelers in the state of New Mexico. We've had travelers from Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, all over the state to come in and practice, so we can provide patient care."
Dodson learned about the new rule a few weeks ago while at a school nurse advisory council meeting, where nurses from around the state come together twice a year.
"I was surprised. The more I thought about it and the impact, especially here in rural New Mexico, how widespread that impact could be, especially because of how many people we serve and how devastating that could be to the hospitals, especially with nurses who are sometimes working 4 to 5 days at a time because they're short staffed, I became really upset," Dodson said.
Dodson took her concerns to social media, posting a video that has since garnered thousands of views and shares.
Dodson questions why a bill updating the compact was never brought before the state legislature, or why local nurses weren't made aware of the changes sooner.
"Out of all the 2017 legislative session, nothing was ever presented in our state. When I spoke with the head of our board of nursing, it was presented to me that no one thought it was going to happen this quickly even though two years went by," Dodson said.
Dodson is asking that residents call lawmakers and ask that they bring up the issue during the next session, which starts in January.
Universities in the Borderland could also be affected. "The concerns we have regard faculty who are licensed in Texas but not licensed in New Mexico," said Dr. Anita Reinhardt with New Mexico State University's School of Nursing. Reinhardt said there are about ten faculty members who regularly take students to Texas for "clinicals."
"We would have a problem getting enough clinical sites for them in New Mexico if they can't take our students across to Texas," Reinhart said.
In a statement, Texas Tech University's Hunt School of Nursing Assistant Dean Manny Santa Cruz said the school doesn't anticipate any problems, as the school doesn't have clinical rotations in New Mexico. But added, "We hope that updates to the compact license mobility will help facilitate practice across state lines. These agreements will establish new levels of cooperation among states, and ultimately, greater access to safe nursing care."
Mountain View Medical Center in Las Cruces told ABC-7 it is working closely with the New Mexico Hospital Association and lawmakers to ensure the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact does not disrupt patient care.
Hospital officials said that while they have a limited number of traveling nurses, they understand many parts of the state suffer from a shortage of nurses.
A spokesman for New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez's office told ABC-7 the Democratic-controlled state legislature has to answer as to why the legislation wasn't addressed.
The governor's office said Martinez has made bolstering New Mexico's healthcare workforce a priority.
The Executive Director of the New Mexico Board of Nursing Demetrius Chapman sent ABC-7 five newsletters he says were sent to nurses across the state from 2015 to 2017, they explain what would happen if the compact was not passed.
Chapman also says it's not the boards authority to lobby at the state legislature.
"26 states passed the exact same piece of legislation in about 18 months. That's really fast," Chapman said. "I think it's a lot faster then anyone anticipated here. Also they need to understand who has the ability to make which policies. This is an interstate compact. The board of nursing has no authority to negotiate an interstate compact. I have no authority to lobby out legislators."
Chapman says he is in favor of entering the compact, but can't speak on behalf of the board.
He says the board will vote on whether they are in favor of the compact in a few weeks.
But the vote won't change much. It'll be up to lawmakers whether they bring the issue forward during the next legislative session.
To read more about the compact click here.